Category Archives: History

The Verge: ‘How the Xbox One and PS4 are helping bring Chinese indie games to the West’

Andrew Webster, The Verge:

For 14 years — starting in 2000 — the Chinese government enforced a ban on video game consoles. Between 2014 and 2015, both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 made their long-awaited and overdue debut. Microsoft described its release as a “monumental day” and celebrated by lighting up the Shanghai skyline in bright Xbox green. Sony’s chief executive Kaz Hirai told The Telegraph that “I think that we will be able to replicate the kind of success we have had with PS4 in other parts of the world in [China].”

The lifting of the Chinese console ban is not news, but the fact it was a thing still blows my mind. Where were you in 2000? Can you imagine your life without console games from then til now? It may sound like a silly question, but video games are a massive part of 21st century culture. Wild.

Regardless, a very cool and interesting story.

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Nintendo 64 and Avoiding ‘Sequelitis’

Sam Machkoveh, Ars Technica:

Perhaps most notably, this was the last console on which Nintendo could rehash its older characters and series without fielding non-stop complaints about “sequelitis.” The console’s best first-party games were mostly sequels—Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Mario Kart 64, Star Fox 64, F-Zero X, even Wave Race 64 and Excitebike 64—and yet all of them felt incredibly new thanks to their steps up to fully 3D engines. Nintendo had been a purely 2D game-making company for nearly a decade, yet it somehow pulled off the transition to 3D gaming in pretty much every way that Sega flubbed its own total overhaul.

Yours truly, in a November 2014 post titled Iterative vs. Redesigned Experiences:

If the doomsayers are correct and Nintendo’s failure is eminent, redesigns are going to be required to prevent it. So far, the majority of first-party titles on Wii U are iterative: Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros. Wii U, Super Mario 3D World, Pikmin 3, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze. While not every redesign has worked in Nintendo’s favor (I’m looking at you, Star Fox Adventures…), they are at the very least refreshing. This is another reason why I think Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is genius; while it’s not a new take on a old classic (because there is no old classic!), it’s a new perspective from the Mushroom Kingdom. Until then, it’s back to smashing and karting.

Pokémon Go was the most recent example of a redesigned rather than iterative experience. Real-world Pokémon is an experience many fans have yearned for since the days of Red and Blue (or Green). Nintendo’s decision to make Niantic, Inc.’s Ingress a venue for real-world Pokémon was not only brilliant, but for a company that’s built their namesake on changing our perspectives, hidden-in-plain-sight.

With surprise experiences like Pokémon Go and Nintendo’s further foray into the new terrian of smartphone hardware, we are sure to see at least a handful of  redesigned experiences on mobile. With the NX, my hopes are not so high. But if anyone can reimagine the console experience, it’s Nintendo.

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Pokémon GOTY

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The year is 1998. I’m standing in Toys”R”Us, holding a slip of paper that reads “Pokémon: Blue Version – $29.95”.

“Are you sure this is the game you want?” my father asks.

Confidentially, I respond, “Yes.”

Now 30-years-old and in the media business, I’m watching headline after headline roll in:

It seems every outlet is writing about the phenomenon that is Pokémon GO; seemingly the second coming of the franchise in North America. And for someone who grew up poring over GamePro and EGM, there is a small bit of vindication every time a major publication like the Times or the Post covers video games in a positive light.

The game has “almost certainly exceeded 65 million American users“, Nintendo’s share price has risen 53%, and all of my feeds (TV included) have been taken over by this game. Over and over, I read stories of the diverse communities engaging in Pokémon GO together. People everywhere partaking in arguably the world’s largest Easter egg hunt together. They are discovering destinations and landmarks in their hometowns via PokéStops and Gyms together.

The biggest shock of all came when our lawyer informed me that she’d caught a Bulbasaur over the weekend.

Caught a Bulbasaur.

Caught!

For someone who grew up with the original Pokémon Red and Blue versions, the dawn of the franchise, that sentence shouldn’t exist.

This whole thing is looney, nuts, insane even. This is a game rooted in green, red, and blue plastic Game Boy cartridges and 11 MB black and white (green) software from the late-90s. But for a child of the late-80s / early-90s, it’s all surreal, strange, and beautiful to watch.

The franchise is once again re-shaping ideas about gaming and technology. The game itself is re-shaping ideas about community and education. Pokémon GO joins other experience, culture, and zeitgeist defining titles such as Pong, Super Mario Bros., TamagotchiGolden Eye, World of Warcraft, and Minecraft. For that, I deem Pokémon GO “Game of the Year”.

And yes, it’s July.

The Super Mario Timeline

Speaking of silly dreamers, how about this gem. I like the idea of Donkey Kong leading to Mario Bros. I especially love the part where Bowser throws in the towel and Mario becomes a sports tycoon.

[Via Polygon]

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Old School Hip Hop is the new Golden Oldies

Rolling Stone:

While radio stations have seen their audience decrease as tech-savvy consumers flock to satellite radio and streaming audio, broadcasters might have finally found a format that can lure listeners back to FM: Classic hip-hop. Playlists that shine the spotlight back on artists like the Notorious B.I.G., Naughty By Nature and Missy Elliott are currently sweeping the nation, with major broadcasters like Radio One, iHeartMedia and Cumulus Media frantically changing the format of underperforming stations to the sounds of classic hip-hop, the New York Times reports.

This makes perfect sense. Hip hop debuted around 1979, now dubbed “old school”. New school hip hop began around 1983, followed by Golden age hip hop in the mid-80s to early-90s. In 2015, this is a 25-35+ years old format.

Oldies, Wikipedia:

In the 1980s and 1990s, “oldies” meant the 15 years from the birth of rock n roll to the beginning of the singer-songwriter era of the early 1970s, or about 1955 to 1972, although this varied and some stations chose 1950-1969.

Between 1980 and 1990, “oldies” encompass a 25-35+ years old format. I may be mistaken but Golden Oldies have always seemed like a tried and true radio station format.

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Winning Isn’t Everything

Excellent piece by Ian Bogost:

Myopia is the worst side effect of a hypothetical century ruled by games — or by any medium, for that matter. Whether or not the 20th century was the century of film, its proponents were never so brazen about dreams of its dominion. You don’t see filmmakers and filmgoers deriding other media for their lack of indexicality or visual sensuousness, penning manifesti for the forthcoming reign of the cinematic century, or inundating Twitter with hatred for anyone who squints at the idea that the medium of film might also bear some flaws. To dream of an age ruled by a singular medium is to dream a dream of isolation, for the comfort and sufficiency of the familiar. Myopia starts as affinity, but it ends as fascism.

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Chronological Console Crash Course

Very interesting read.

Andy Baio:

What happens when a 21st-century kid plays through video game history in chronological order?

Start with the arcade classics and Atari 2600, from Asteroids to Zaxxon. After a year, move on to the 8-bit era with the NES and Sega classics. The next year, the SNES, Game Boy, and classic PC adventure games. Then the PlayStation and N64, Xbox and GBA, and so on until we’re caught up with the modern era of gaming.

Would that child better appreciate modern independent games that don’t have the budgets of AAA monstrosities like Destiny and Call of Duty? Would they appreciate the retro aesthetic, or just think it looks crappy?

Or would they just grow up thinking that video game technology moved at a breakneck speed when they were kids, and slammed to a halt as soon as they hit adolescence?

I’ve always wondered how this sort of thing would play out. For the selfish sake of revisiting the past, I’ve always envisioned doing the same with my future children.

On the topic of experimentation, I was forced to play baseball, soccer, and piano with no interest in the topics. I wanted to be around computers and gadgets. While I ditched soccer and (regretfully) piano after two or three years, I ended up playing baseball for ten with a peak batting average of .069. Needless to say, my time spent on the diamond is not a fond memory, but my parents insisted I play an organized sport. Turns out I learned more playing bass in a high school punk band, collaborating, booking, planning, and managing finances, than playing organized sports. Some kids enjoy music; some enjoy baking; some enjoy technology. Find their jam and run with it. There are ways to develop well rounded people outside of their passion.

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The Lord of the Rings and the Serial Cliffhanger

Ryan Gilbey, writing for The Guardian:

In this Netflix-fixated age of instant gratification, the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies did something both antiquated and radical: they restored to cinema-going the old-fashioned thrill of the serial cliffhanger. The difference is that 1940s and 1950s audiences had only to wait a week to find out the resolution. Middle Earth enthusiasts, on the other hand, had to while away an entire year between episodes.

Future generations consuming the whole shebang over several days of binge-watching will do well to remember that – and to raise a tankard of mead to those comrades who fell before the finishing line, or who said: “Sod this for a game of soldiers, I’ll wait for the DVDs so I can fast-forward through all the boring bits.” (One character in Kevin Smith’s comedy Clerks II described the first trilogy as: “Three movies of people walking to a fucking volcano!”)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released in November 2001, a mere month before the first Lord of the Rings film (The Fellowship of the Ring).

But with the exception of the seventh and eighth outings, the Harry Potter films are self-contained, with no explicitly loose threads left dangling between pictures.

Audiences had experienced little to compare with the protracted suspense at the end of The Two Towers, when the slithering Gollum is apparently poised to murder Frodo and Sam. Jackson played the long game and took a gamble that audiences might want to play it, too.

Aside from the fact that “Middle Earth enthusiasts” already knew the ending, this is exactly what I’m talking about.

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Iterative vs. Redesigned Experiences

Everyone seems to have a solution for Nintendo. They need to develop for iOS. They need to stop making consoles. They need to be purchased by Disney. My two cents? They need to reinvent their properties.

The Nintendo 64 is my favorite video game console. It’s not due to the use of polygons, 3D environments, and the fact that it looked much better than Playstation. It’s that beloved franchises were reimagined, reinvented, and redesigned.

Super Smash Bros. Wii U was released yesterday. I’ve played all of the versions prior, and they are all fine games, but they are all iterative. For this reason, I hesitated to drop another $59.99 on an experience I’d already had. Needless to say I made the purchase after soaring reviews, but a morsel of remorse lingers. I more or less know what I’ll be getting.

Super Mario 64 could have just as easily been another side-scroller, albeit with better visuals. The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time could have been another top-down adventure. Donkey Kong 64 could have gone a number of pre-existing directions. Sure the Metroid series skipped the Nintendo 64 generation but Metroid Prime could have been another 2D platformer. The fact of the matter is that these titles reinvented their respective franchises. The worlds and characters we loved were shown in a new light and perspective. Sure, they are great games but they reinvented the way we thought about the franchises. This is what makes them so special.

Nintendo stepped out of the box to deliver entirely new experiences. Super Mario 64 was a new way to think about Mario; a new standard in-addition-to, not in-lieu-of: Mac vs. iPhone; not iPad vs. iPhone.

Super Mario Bros. 2, 3, World, and 3D Land/World are iterative of Super Mario Bros. while Super Marios Sunshine and Galaxy are iterative of Super Mario 64. This is not the same problem as sequels and spin-offs.

If the doomsayers are correct and Nintendo’s failure is eminent, redesigns are going to be required to prevent it. So far, the majority of first-party titles on Wii U are iterative: Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros. Wii U, Super Mario 3D World, Pikmin 3, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze. While not every redesign has worked in Nintendo’s favor (I’m looking at you, Star Fox Adventures), they are at the very least refreshing. This is another reason why I think Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is genius; while it’s not a new take on a old classic (because there is no old classic!), it’s a new perspective from the Mushroom Kingdom. Until then, it’s back to smashing and karting.

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‘The making of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker’

Danielle Riendeau of Polygon in an Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker producer and director Koichi Hayashida and Shinya Hiratake:

“We began with Super Mario 64,” Hayashida told Polygon via video conference. “While Super Mario 64 was quite an interesting game, we heard that roughly 20 percent of gamers found it too difficult,” he said, brandishing a copy of the Nintendo 64 game. “We kept that comment that the game was too challenging and made games like Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario 3D World with that in mind.”

But, in making 3D Land and 3D World, the team felt it was getting away from a fundamental design principle that made Mario 64 so special: the idea that the levels were a sort of “diorama” or a “garden in a box,” entire worlds contained in relatively compact structures. In creating the Captain Toad stages for Mario 3D World, the studio was able to go back to that idea, and keep the challenge level accessible.

That’s how the team created the handful of stages starring Captain Toad for Super Mario 3D World. They represented a different style of play from the traditional 3D platforming in the rest of the game — slower paced and more cerebral, they offered players something of a refresher between obstacle courses and cat-powered wackiness.

In addition to the variety of interesting cross-overs and spin-offs, it seems like Nintendo has been a bit more open as of late, offering more peaks behind the certain.

As for Captain Toad, I love that Super Mario 64 stands as its foundation. However, my favorite part of Super Mario 64 is the challenge. It is always great to take a swing at impossibly difficult missions year after year. There is almost a “young grasshopper” feel to it. I hope Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker’s accessible “challenge level” isn’t too far removed from Super Mario 64.

Either way, this interview solidifies my thought that Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is genius.

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